The impact of the so-called pingdemic, which has forced thousands of supermarket staff to stay away from the aisles, is causing food shortages in parts of the country – but the signs here are more promising.
The government has added fully vaccinated supermarket staff to its list of critical workers exempt from self-isolation amid concern about the kind of scenes commonplace when Covid first swept across the UK in March last year.
But the issue does not appear to have engulfed Coventry just yet, judging by Coventry Live’s own investigation.
We visited four supermarkets in the north-east of the city and each one was packed full of food.
Admittedly, stocks of fizzy drinks, bottled water and some seasonal items, such as camping gear, were pretty low.
But, in the main, the shelves were pretty well-stocked.
There was certainly no lack of staff at Tesco Express in Walsgrave, which appeared very well-covered when we paid a visit.
Nor was the store’s shelves especially short on most items.
It was a similar story at the nearby Aldi in Hinckley Road.
The store’s fresh produce aisle was heaving and there were no signs of shortages elsewhere.
How about at Asda’s huge Supercentre in Brade Drive, Walsgrave?
We’re happy to report that too was home to an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables and other other household items from the dairy, bakery, meat and fish counters.
The store’s main drinks bottle aisle was a little light, but that may have been down to a surge in demand with staycationers preparing for their travels.
Morrisons in Binley, the final stop on our supermarket sweep, was much the same.
If anything, the Skipworth Road site had arguably the biggest selection of fresh produce of the four supermarkets we visited.
If the pingdemic is to besiege Coventry’s supermarkets, it doesn’t look like it has happened just yet.
It comes after the Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said the government is “concerned about instances of shortages”.
The Co-op has said it was “running low on some products”, while Iceland said shops might have to be closed due to staff shortages.
Around 500 firms in the food supply chain have been contacted directly by the Government to use an exemption scheme, Environment Secretary George Eustice told Sky News on Friday.
Yet some food bosses said there is still significant confusion over whether they will be contacted over exemptions, which workers will be eligible and whether they should apply directly.
Richard Harrow, chief executive of the British Frozen Food Federation, told the Press Association there is still uncertainty among businesses over whether daily workplace testing will be involved in order to allow people to continue working if they are “pinged”.
He also said there are concerns that more workers may be freed up in some areas of the supply chain but not others – such as in supermarkets.
He said: “The Government announcement last night that parts of the supply chain will be allowed to test and release workers that are pinged by Track and Trace only goes part of the way.
“It shows that yet again Government does not understand how connected the food supply chain is. Only opening part is unlikely to solve the overall issue. Plus, who is in and who is out, who decides and how do they decide?
“Confusion continues to pervade and I have been advised no list until Monday. This is worse than useless.”
A director at a major supermarket own-brand supplier also told the Press Association that Government correspondence has been “patchy” and issues still need to be resolved.
He added: “The pingdemic issue is irritating because obviously it will be helpful for the Government to resolve, but it’s shielding longer term problems.
“This system they are talking about to improve isolation is not suddenly going to solve supply chains in a week.”
In addition, supermarket bosses have criticised the Government’s decision to limit the exemption to suppliers and not many shop floor workers.
Richard Walker, managing director at Iceland, said: “We’re encouraged to hear that supermarket depot workers and food manufacturers will be exempt from Government rules, but deeply disappointed to see supermarket store workers omitted from the list.”
Yet speaking earlier today, Environment Secretary George Eustice said it was easier to manage staff shortages on a store level when asked why supermarket staff were not included in exemptions.
He told BBC Breakfast: “Well, the main reason is that would be a really significant undertaking, as you’re talking then thousands of different shops, and many more people, and we still want to maintain the test, trace and isolate system.
“We know that the most important thing is to ensure that those main arteries in our food supply chain keep working, that the lorries keep going from depots to get goods to store and that the food manufacturers can continue to manufacture the goods to get it to the depots.
“When you get to store level, of course, yes, there will be some difficulties, they will have staff shortages. But it is easier to manage at that level.”
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